Inspiration for employee benefits research can come from unexpected places – like earthquakes and shooting ranges. In my work leading an innovation team, we use a variety of techniques to gain deeper insight into what an employee may experience while on disability leave or when enrolling in their benefits.
Most absence and leave management companies focus their efforts on helping an employee request disability leave, validating the leave, and helping them return to work successfully. We find, however, it’s just as essential to understand the employee’s well-being beyond the reason for their disability leave. We look for ways to address these issues – not just with disability insurance, but across all our employee benefits.
Empathy and Outside-In Research
Creative solutions start with strong research — and employee benefits research starts with building empathy to better understand what employees need from their benefits.
One way to approach an issue is through analogous research or looking outside of the insurance industry to see how others approach similar challenges. (The Council for Disability Awareness’ research committee refers to this as an “outside-in” approach.) This is where earthquakes and shooting ranges come in.
We talked with seismology experts to understand how they plan for earthquakes and aftershocks to see if we could apply the same approach to employee wellness. We went to a shooting range to see how people think about protection, so we could apply the learnings in the context of life insurance. We gather insights from these experiences to inspire creative advances in benefit offerings to address issues affecting employees every day.
We also look at outliers, or extreme users of a product, for insight. When re-imagining a maternity leave solution, we studied parents of twins and triplets to appreciate how they addressed their pregnancy, delivery, and home life.
It’s these outside perspectives that highlight fresh ideas and broaden our understanding of an issue. And, as we narrow in on solutions, focus groups and one-on-one interviews allow us to observe and collect feedback on the new ideas and see if one emerges as a clear winner.
We continuously build on these new ideas and concepts (and can cycle through the research process several times) before feeling confident that we have a desirable solution that meets our customers’ needs.
Insights lead to innovation
These methods helped us uncover several new insights on what people feel and experience while on disability leave.
We found that sometimes employees will look forward to the time away from work to recharge and recover. Over time they discover that they begin to feel left out as their co-workers and families continue their lives. When an employee doesn’t feel like part of the team, it can affect their mental health and well-being. This finding helps us work with employers to balance giving the employee the time they need while also helping them feel valued and included.
Sometimes people don’t realize that disability benefit payments rarely cover 100 percent of their salary. So, now they’re unexpectedly living on a reduced income. During one of our research studies, we found a single mother on a disability leave who went without food for herself for days, so she could afford the family’s traditional pizza night. That helped us realize that some employees need budgeting help while on leave.
Innovation Opportunities in Disability-Related Absences
One in four U.S. adults live with a disability according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 So it’s important to address the whole person – their thoughts, feelings and experiences — while they’re out of work due to an illness, injury or pregnancy. A disability-related absence can affect us all and is, therefore, an area ripe for innovation.
By looking outside our field and understanding what people need, we can develop innovative solutions that help take care of the entire person. The more we understand how employees feel, the more we’re able to craft tailored solutions that give them what they need.